One of the things I like about traveling is the reaffirming sense of my place in the world. Riding the bus out here from River City, barrelling through the night the cement slipstream through Tennessee into West Virginia and Virginia, I thought about all the other times I'd been through those places. Tennessee -- Knoxville in particular -- continues to leave a bad taste in my psyche. There was so much promise, so much denied, and, looking back, the foundation of my second marriage's eventual failure has it's roots somewhere in that haunted little city overshadowed by a large state school and the unrealized hope of the sunsphere... remains of the 1984 World's Fair... and the nuclear warhead manufacturing facility in Oak Ridge.
I found myself feeling increasingly cynical and bitter as the bus rolled through the Volunteer State, even though I was generally happy to be back out again. The academic year is finished. I got most of my list of tasks completed. I scribbled a few lines in the first entry of a fresh travel journal about the leaving and about looking ahead to the sun I am perpetually chasing:
So long to the bean counters.
So long to the nit picking biddies.
So long to the dirty sacred river.
(Your memory courses through my veins.)
So long Beloved, until my promised return.
(Your love courses through the marrow of my soul.)
I would have prefered to bring The Traveller's Angel with me on this jaunt, like I would prefer to have her with me on every jaunt. I've mentioned before that she travels well and how I appreciate her observations, her quick wit and insights about the world. It is important to be able to see the world differently when you are out in it, even if you are travelling to a place you've been before.
And even though she couldn't come out with me in person this time, I carry her with me, anyway.
I was asked recently by a friend and fellow Wob, J.P. Wright, how I managed to find a woman who understands my need to be in my head... which sometimes means I need to be out and on the road, moving.
My only answer is that sometimes the universe is inexplicably and unjustifiably kind. Though it's possible to reconstruct the timeline of our relationship (which, in all honesty has roots that reach back almost 20 years) I am mindful of the words my friend George Eklund told me on one the many times he and his wife Laura have welcomed me into the warmth of their home:
"You know," he said, "there's someone for everyone. But the chances of actually running into that person are so against us."
This is one of the ways I understand grace,and am learning to accept faith.
Travelling without her in the seat next to me is hard; but there is magic and a miracle in loving someone and in being loved by someone who understands that I need to get out and stretch my legs from time to time, if only to meditate on my place in the world and see what there is to see.
My eastbound jaunt takes me once again to Virginia and the Atlantic Coast. The weather is better, and The Kid is living on her own (with her boyfriend, who I'm starting to like inspite of my deep and intense desire to not like anyone who dates my daughter.*), working, and going to school. I have spent most of her life trying bolster her up across large geographic boundaries, and I was never able to visit as much as I would have liked. Now that I dedicate time exclusively to being on the road, it's easier for me to drop in and check on her, if only so she knows that I am in her corner regardless of my current zip code.
Travelling as I do, sometimes visiting friends, I run back into my own footsteps from time to time. But with each new visit, I am aware that the footprints eventually wash away, that even familiar places are always a little new, a little beautiful, a little sad, a little dangerous.
And though I stand by my assertion that Norfolk is the UNFRIENDLIEST CITY I HAVE EVER BEEN IN, I have always had an affinity for the water, and I like the North Atlantic coast. I never get tired of staring out into the horizon, focusing on everything and on nothing, feeling myself saturate and be saturated by the place in the distance where the water meets the sky, and everything merges into one thing.
This is the only way I can grasp what sacred means... that place where all things merge, where the Traveller's Angel's soft touch reaches out to me in a sunbeam carried by North Atlantic winds, and I can watch my daughter and marvel at the adult she is becoming.
More later from down the cement slipstream...